Two Easter Miracles

On April 27, I read the following headline: “On April 15 the Tolling of Emmanuel Filled the Skies of Paris”. Emmanuel is a bell. In fact, this bell is the only one that survived the French Revolution of 1789 and to this day remains a symbol of Paris. Emmanuel rang-in a very special event in France! On this occasion she reminded the world of the first anniversary of the fire that destroyed most of Notre Dame Cathedral, stupefying France and the world.

It was April 15 2019, at 6.50 p.m., when the fire began its devastation of the magnificent gothic building. The church was consecrated on May 19th, 1182 and since then it had become not only a symbol of Paris and the French nation, but an edifice cherished by believers and non-believers alike throughout the world.

On April 27 Emmanuel heralded to Parisians and to the world that the work of the Cathedral’s restoration would pick up again after it was halted due to the Coronavirus last March 16th.

But it was not just this news that gave new hope to the world, for on April 10th, Good Friday, the Archbishop of Paris commemorated the Lord’s Passion inside the wounded and empty cathedral, at the feet of the large golden Crucifix that had remained untouched by the fire.

The event brought to my mind the motto of the Carthusian Order of monks which dates back to the year 1000: “Stat crux dum volvitur orbis – The Cross Stands Still While the World Turns”.

I then recalled the Crucifix of Church of San Marcello in Rome which was miraculously spared from the fire that ravaged the church on the night of May 22-23, 1519. This same Crucifix saved Rome from the plague during the Summer 1522. Pope Francis prayed before this Crucifix on March 16th, which had been temporarily moved to the Basilica of St. Peter, to mark the “Extraordinary Moment of Prayer” presided over by His Holiness.

During the Prayer Service Pope Francis said: “The Lord asks us and, in the midst of our tempest, invites us to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering. The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith. We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love. In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things, let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: he is risen and is living by our side. The Lord asks us from his cross to rediscover the life that awaits us, to look towards those who look to us, to strengthen, recognize and foster the grace that lives within us. Let us not quench the wavering flame (cf. Is 42:3) that never falters, and let us allow hope to be rekindled.

Embracing his cross means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring. It means finding the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity and solidarity. By his cross we have been saved in order to embrace hope and let it strengthen and sustain all measures and all possible avenues for helping us protect ourselves and others. Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope”.

At hearing these words of the Pope, I reflected: here is a sign of hope to lift up the hearts of all during very difficult times.

After Easter, reading the news from Italy, I was very touched by the testimony given by one of the chaplains serving at the Spallanzani Hospital in Rome. This Hospital became well-known in Italy due to the COVID crisis.

The priest shared: “On Easter day while I was visiting the sick and taking them Holy Communion, one of the nurses whom in the past had proudly declared himself an atheist, stopped me and said: ‘I have told you many times that I don’t believe in God, but in this very moment I’m having a very strange feeling that this virus can’t be stopped by any human being. If this person exists, this one will have to intervene because we can’t endure this. I can’t take it anymore! In some way I envy the faith of many people. They are supported by their faith”. Looking him in the eyes I responded: “The most important thing is that God believes in you! Please keep that in your heart!” As I said this to him, he looked at me very intently and started to weep. “What?!” he said. “Yes” I answered, “my God believes in you! Happy Easter!” Since then his life is totally changed. Now any time he sees me he stops to talk with me in a very cordial way! Every time he saw me in the past he would avoid me and start swearing profusely! It’s the Easter miracle!”

In Matthew 28 we read: “At dawn the women went to the tomb.” There the angel says to them: “Do not be afraid. He is not here; for he has risen” (vv. 5-6). They hear the words of life even as they stand before a tomb … And then they meet Jesus, the giver of all hope, who confirms the message and says: “Do not be afraid” (v. 10). Do not be afraid, do not yield to fear: This is the message of hope. It is addressed to us, today and every day, until the end of time.

With Easter we have acquired a fundamental right that can never be taken away from us: the right to hope. It is a new and living hope that comes from God. It is not mere optimism; it is not a pat on the back or an empty word of encouragement, uttered with an empty smile. No! It is a gift from heaven, which we could not have earned on our own. Over these weeks, we have been repeating, “All will be well”, clinging to the beauty of our humanity and allowing words of encouragement to rise up from our hearts. But as the days go by and fears grow, even the boldest hope can dissipate. Jesus’ hope is different. He plants in our hearts the conviction that God is able to make everything work unto good, because even from the grave he brings life” (Pope Francis Homily for the Easter Vigil).

Do not be afraid, do not yield to fear: This is the message of hope. It is addressed to us, today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow challenging each one of us to renew our faith. We know very well that to believe is to recognize that this invisible hand of God still works and reaches right there where humans cannot; to believe also means to live in this difficult and dramatic situation today with Christian hope, which is the attitude of those who decide to live in love: they do not shut themselves up in themselves, but offer their lives, saying “yes” even in the most intense times; to believe therefore is to listen, to welcome, to trust, and to offer oneself.

The difficulty of the present time and the disorientation that accompanies it, does not nullify our firm certainty that God does not abandon those who love Him and that we are not alone. We know and believe that the “one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11).

It is difficult for us to fully fathom what is happening during these times. We need to let time reveal the events, and with time the heart’s intelligence will grow as it listens to the silence of God.

In the pain and joy of the days to come, we will re-read these events with the word of God and I am sure we will find the Word that helps us understand these times, a word that will give life to our mortal bodies and the Spirit that dwells in us.

Fr. Antonio Curto, C.P.